When you take a cool photo and share it online, do you care if it disappears tomorrow?
If you don’t, I’d say there’s a good chance you’re younger then 30. I know this because Snapchat, the popular photo-sharing app which (typically) makes your photos disappear after a while, has a predominantly young user base: 60% of its users are below 24, and 84% are under 34.
Folks that are over 35 or so (me included) have a tough time understanding the appeal of Snapchat. What good is taking a nice photo if it’s going to disappear? Why bother in the first place? I tried to love Snapchat but I ended up going back to Instagram, where the last couple of years of my life are neatly recorded in a long list of horribly over-processed photos.
It’s unfair to describe millennials (which are loosely defined, anyways) with such a broad stroke, but I do feel this detail captures the clash of generations well. Either you get Snapchat or you don’t. Either you care about yesterday’s photos or you don’t.
As I tried to make sense of Bitcoin’s price explosion, I’ve realized that our youth’s carelessness about the past, their desire to only live in the now, might be one of the culprits.
Someone that doesn’t care about what happened yesterday is probably less willing to spend long hours looking at graphs comparing Bitcoin to previous bubbles. For me, investing in an asset whose price has risen 1,500 percent in less than a year is incredibly risky, no matter how optimistic you are about Bitcoin’s underlying technology and what it does to financial markets. But for the Snapchat generation, risk assessment might be secondary to the desire to just ride out the hype, man.
It’s not just Bitcoin. In the past months, I’ve invested in ICOs and traded digital tokens created by companies that were little more than a few LinkedIn profiles and a fancy PowerPoint presentation. I’ve bought and sold digital kitties for real money.
I’ve mingled with like-minded investors in Slack and Telegram rooms, and the one thing that most of these people — many of them young males, from what I’ve gathered — value more than all is hype. A startup is nothing without the hype: You can have the best engineers in the world and a working product and still lose to a company that has none of that, but it does have 5,000 members in its Slack channel.
And hype wears down quickly. I’ve invested in the stock market a decade ago, and I know how frenzied traders can be, but this is nothing compared to this new breed of investors. Something that was huge yesterday is dead tomorrow. Sometimes, literally one hour can turn the hottest digital asset in the world, one that can earn you a tenfold profit, into a useless array of ones and zeros stored on some distributed database.
The main forces that drive the price of these digital assets are FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) and FOMO (fear of missing out).
The main forces that drive the price of these digital assets are FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) and FOMO (fear of missing out). Either something is hyped up and you want to catch the bandwagon before it’s too late, or the tide has turned and everyone wants to get rid of it.
And both FOMO and FUD can be artificially inflated. Sometimes all it takes is a couple of good-sounding statements about a crypto-startup on Reddit or 4chan’s biz section, and a group of people to back it up, for an asset to skyrocket in value. Just like rare traits on those hugely popular cryptokitties, the reasons don’t make much sense. Sometimes, a company is good because it comes from China. Sometimes the opposite is true.
The anonymity and decentralized nature of most cryptocurrencies and their derivatives have given power to a whole new group of young investors. Not only they can help fund a startup without even knowing what venture capitalists do or what an IPO is — they can make millions disappear and reappear with social media posts.
The very nature of Bitcoin plays perfectly into this sort of mindset. Bitcoin is an odd asset; part money, part store of value, part platform, it has no clear fundamentals upon which investors can base their decisions on. And with no fundamentals, you’re free to do whatever you want. Think the price of $15,000 for one bitcoin is high? I’ve heard that when it was $15, $150 and $1,500. Who’s to say it won’t hit $150,000?
With seemingly everyone jumping on the Bitcoin bandwagon these days, including institutional investors, it’s hard to chalk up Bitcoin’s meteoric rise solely to the behavior patterns of millennials. But I bet it has something to do with it; I’ve been there from the very beginning, and I’ve seen how these kids invest. Yes, there have been bubbles before, but this one is a little bigger, and a little weirder, than most of them.
There will be a reckoning down the line. This is real money we’re talking about, and the bubble does not go on forever — it never, ever does. It’s going to hurt, especially if you came to the party late. But try explaining that to someone who doesn’t care whether their photo is gone tomorrow.